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Ozzie defends Pierre against all critics, including Sox GM Williams

CHICAGO IL - JULY 01: Juan Pierre #1 Chicago White Sox celebrates wwith teammate Paul Konerko #14 against Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 01: Juan Pierre #1 of the Chicago White Sox celebrates a win with teammate Paul Konerko #14 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Cubs 6-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\117867681.jpg

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:34AM

The center of the latest White Sox controversy isn’t Dayan Viciedo, the hot-hitting minor-leaguer. It’s Juan Pierre, the hard-working veteran who is close to Ozzie Guillen’s heart.

If Guillen and general manager Ken Williams are at odds — and odds are they are, given their history — it’s not about whether Viciedo is ready for the big leagues; it’s about whose place he takes.

He won’t take Pierre’s place in left field, not if Guillen has anything to say about it. You get the distinct feeling that this subject is a non-starter for Guillen. Or, to put it more succinctly, you get the distinct feeling that this is where Guillen draws a line in the sand.

To listen to him talk about Pierre is to hear every coach in sports history gush about the ideal competitor. You, the fan, will have to decide if you recognize Pierre from Guillen’s description:

‘‘I wish I had 25 Juan Pierres, with all due respect to [Paul] Konerko, [Alex] Rios, [Adam] Dunn. If you ever manage Juan Pierre, you appreciate the way this kid goes about his business.’’

Business was very good for the Sox on Friday, when Pierre had a two-run triple in the seventh inning to knock out Cubs pitcher Randy Wells at Wrigley Field.

‘Our players love him’

If Guillen isn’t going to budge, that leaves Williams with a decision: Leave Viciedo to spin his tires at Class AAA Charlotte, where he’s hitting .329 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI in 78 games, or allow Guillen to put Viciedo in place of someone such as Rios, a big-ticket item on the Sox’ budget who is hitting .223.

Public opinion seems to say that the easy answer is to bench Pierre, who is hitting .262 and has stolen only 11 bases. But who takes his spot as the leadoff hitter? Alexei Ramirez? That’s a guy who has the plate patience of a Little Leaguer.

Kenny is saying it’s Ozzie’s decision whether Viciedo gets called up. Ozzie is saying it’s Kenny’s decision. Does this sound like two guys getting along?

‘‘It’s nothing against Viciedo,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘If they bring Viciedo here, I don’t mind, but somebody has to go. It’s not my decision. I don’t release people. I don’t sign people.

‘‘I’m not standing in anybody’s way. If people think I am, no. I think I’m just happy with what I have. But who is the [odd] man out? I think our bench is pretty strong.’’

This can’t be termed a conventional power struggle between Williams and Guillen. A power struggle describes people fighting for control of something. In this conflict, both sides seem to be intent on not taking control of the Viciedo situation. If it’s a power struggle, it’s a very passive-aggressive power struggle.

Guillen loves Pierre’s work ethic, which he says is unparalleled. Three times a week, when Sox pitchers and catchers work on pickoffs and attempted steals, Pierre is the only position player working on his leadoffs regularly. He also works on bunts and takes extra fly balls in the outfield.

‘‘Nobody else in baseball does all that,’’ Guillen said.

He said there would be irreversible damage if he benched Pierre.

‘‘I might lose some respect from the players,’’ he said. ‘‘People believe in Juan; they know he’s our leader. I’m not afraid to bench a guy that’s not producing, as long as I have something else better or equal. But I think he plays the game right. He works. A lot of people look up to him. Our players love him.

‘‘I always say it’s about winning; I don’t care about feelings. But you have to be careful. You have to be careful how you treat your players, how your players are going to respond. If I do that to Juan, well, I never did it to anybody else. A lot of people have struggled, and I say, ‘I’m not going to bench you.’  ’’

Reputations at stake

With the public outcry for Viciedo’s promotion getting louder, Guillen has made it clear to Williams that Pierre won’t sit on the bench. He said he won’t do that to a player in his 12th season, especially with no better option available to the team.

‘‘Maybe he’ll be 0-for-100 in the next 20 games,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘I don’t care. He’s playing.’’

‘‘I appreciate Ozzie saying he has my back,’’ Pierre said, ‘‘but I’ve been benched before, I’ve been booed, I’ve batted ninth, I’ve dropped balls — I’ve done all this stuff in my career. So this stuff doesn’t shake me when I do get the boos or the media talk bad about me. I’m used to it.’’

Flare-ups between Williams and Guillen seem to be as regular as full moons, and where this one ranks is hard to tell. But a lot is at stake here, particularly reputations. Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Maybe the better question is, who wants to make a decision?

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